Is presenting a flag upside down illegal?

I looked into flag burning, and I’m glad it’s still legal. But the inverted presentation of our flag is rarely mentioned. I watched “Thunderheart” a movie based on a Native American reservation and some goverment agents came up a flag that was inverted and said it was illegal. Is this true? Are there any other laws on flag ediquite (spelling) I should know about?

I’m not sure about the legality, but (as far as I know) the American flag upside-down is supposed to represent a country in distress, so I suppose government employees might take offense to it.

Congress has enacted a flag code for the display of the U.S. flag by civilians: US Code, Title 4, § 7. However, to the best of my knowledge the flag code is declaratory only - that is, it doesn’t create any offences for failure to follow the code.

As well, displaying a flag upside down is the universal symbol for distress, such as a vessel in trouble at sea. If you flew the flag upside down in circumstances that were calculated to deceive, and possibly jeopardise someone else (e.g. - good samaritans who came out in dangerous circumstances to rescue you), I suppose there might be an offence, just like a false SOS. But that’s rather speculative.

Fair enough for the US flag, but what rules apply to the flag in Canada?

After watching the Grey Cup a few years ago, I wanted to find out where I could get a blue maple leaf on yellow Canuck flag, like some of the Blue Bomber fans were waving. I called the Manitoba tourism office the next day, and the person at the other end said, “I would think that’s illegal.”

I wanted to ask, “What kind of totalitarian system do you have up there, where the government would outlaw defacement of the flag?” But i bit my tongue.

I’m not aware of any laws that would prevent you from flying a flag like you describe, nor do we have any defacement laws that I can recall. (There’s been the occasional private member’s bill introduced in the Commons to criminalise defacement, but I don’t think any have passed.) Any such law would likely run afoul of the Charter’sguarantee of freedom of expression.

Best place to inquire for that flag would likely be the Bombers souvenir store - that’s probably would be where the fans would be getting them. Here’s a link to the Bombers.

I’ve heard of upside down flags representing distress as well. I remember seeing a TV news bit a few years back of some Canadian soldiers (?I think?) who ruffled some feathers inadvertently. At some festival or conference or something the news cameras caught them cutting up the Canadian flag with scissors. It was later revealed that they were just cutting out the maple leaf to wear as a decoration. I don’t think there are many hard and fast laws about defacing or altering flags that will land you in much trouble; it’s just a traditional thing that you don’t mess with flags. I also saw on the news once that at a border in the Middle East somewhere some guy was fooling around for a crowd and trying to climb up a flag pole to grab the other country’s flag. He made it about 6 feet up, and was then gunned down dead by guards on camera - be glad we are fairly lax on flag etiquit here.

[minor hijack] What’s the distress protocol for nation’s whose flag looks the same upside down as it does right way up (Japan springs to mind, among others)? [/minor hijack]

Northern Piper: Haven’t checked recently, but at the time the flag was available from neither the Bombers shop nor a couple of sports stores in Winnipeg.

That would be the divided island of Cyprus

reprise: Excellent question. My WAG is that this tradition is not that widespread. Perhaps just North American? Consider how effective it would be for the British, from whom we get many customs of this sort. Likewise, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, and even the Scandinavian countries can’t use this sign of distress. Perhaps some of the traditional central and eastern European
flags with eagles or other such emblems might have used it.

Here in Topeka ol’ Freddie Phelps flies all his flags upside down because he says “America is doomed and it’s too late for it” That’s the US flag, The state(Kansas) flag, and the flag of the city of Topeka. The reason for the latter is that the city motto is “The Golden City” which ol’Phred says is a synonym for Babylon in Revelations.

Flying an American flag upside-down is a traditional, but uncodified maritime signal of distress, but on land is also seen as a negative comment on what the flag represents (much like upside-down crosses for Satanists). In the situation Norther Piper indicates, there have been cases where a person displayed an upside-down flag in order to lure law enforcement to an ambush. I know of one case in Denver about 15 years ago where the person displaying the flag this way killed 2 or three cops. The use of the flag in this manner was judged deceptive, and the person doing it was charged with first degree murder. It was not charged as separate crime. The forgoing is offered for what its worth.

From the Boy Scout Handbook, tenth edition, page 478 (the section on flag etiquette):

The flag of the Philippines is officially flown upside-down during times of war.

In the case presented in the OP, the flag was on an Indian reservation. Most Indian reservations are considered sovereign territory, so it would be the laws of that particular Indian nation that would determine the legality, not US laws. I don’t think any Indian nation has outlawed this practice. The FBI agents in the movie were mistaken.

Further exploring the website mentioned by Terminus Est, I found a good discussion of our question.
They don’t seem that sure about the country of origin, but point out among other things that it was used by the Brits. As I should have realized, their naval ensign is amenable to this.

You also could fly the Union Jack upside down, but it would take a pretty sharp eyed observer to notice it.

Well, sort of. Technically certain Native American nations have soverign status because of various treaties, but the courts generally treat reservations as either state or federal land, subject to the appropriate law. The tribal government has varying authority, depending roughly on the size and political power of the tribe. This has been a HUGE point of contention over the years. If reservations were truly soverign nations, the tribal government wouldn’t have to get permission from the state to build a casino, for example (Proposition 5 here in California a few years ago).

I saw Rage Against the Machine in concert once, and they had an upside-down American flag on the stage.
Symbolic, but not of distress.

I suppose I over-simplified a bit. Most Indian reservations retain some degree of self-rule, and some (Seminoles, for example) are nearly autonomous.

It seems unlikely to me that Federal agents would be concerned about something so petty as how a person chooses to display a flag. It is certainly not of any great national interest to enforce such asinine laws, if they do, in fact, exist.

As an American, I readily confess I may be wrong, but isn’t the Union Jack EXACTLY the same right side up or up side down?

And as for burning the flag, it is one of the two distinguished ways of getting rid of a flag that is past its prime, the other being burying. The American Legion says burning. I always giggle at folks who burn it in anger, it is a very honorable and distinguished way of disposing of the US Flag.

As for upside down, I see it as distress on the seas or on land (cite “Baa Baa Black Sheep” with Robert Conrad in the episode where Japs take over the island after learning a high dignitary was landing there)

Here is a picture of the Union Jack. It is non-symmetrical vertically, but as Northern Piper said it would take more than a casual glance to notice. Further down are several naval flags with the Union Jack in the corner. These flags would be easy to tell if flown upside down.